A project to revive the lost splendour of Chandni Chowk: a magical market in the heart of Delhi built by a Sufi architect and ‘princess of princesses’ – ‘Jahanara’ – ‘the one who was loved by all’. Our dream is to give this historical gem the facelift it deserves and turn it into a well-managed commercial and tourist hotspot (think Plaza Mayor Spain!). We plan to do this by accounting for stakeholders’ interests, liaising with the municipal and public works bodies, creating a collaborative network of doers and thought leaders from around the world and, if required, filing a petition before a court to address this. We will leave no stone unturned.
History of Chandini Chowk
Chandini Chowk was built in 1650 AD, by a Sufi architect named Jahanara. She was a ‘princess of princesses’; daughter of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.
About Jahanara – the Sufi Architect of magical Chandini Chowk
Jahanara lived a life outside the conventional role of a Mughal princess — as an exemplary architect, engineer, poet, writer and painter, especially in an era where the lives of Mughal women were largely confined within the walls of the zenana. “She was loved by all” wrote Niccolao Manucci, an Italian traveller and writer.
“Jahanara established herself in the city as the most influential woman patron of literature and poetry. She collected rare and beautiful books and her library was peerless. She donated money to charity, especially Sufi dargahs, and carried on a genteel diplomacy with minor rajas who came to her with grievances and gifts,” wrote Mukhoty.
Jahanara was also a great supporter of Sufism. To satiate her spiritual longing, she was introduced to the Qadriyah Sufi order by one of her mentors named Mullah Shah Badakhshi. The Qadriyah order laid great stress on the ‘purification of the self’. In one of her books, ‘Risalah-i-Sahibiyah’, the princess
recorded her spiritual journey and acknowledged her affection towards the Qadriya Sufi order, and wrote:
“When I realised that the truth for this existence requires fanaa, I decided to follow what my pir requires, to die before death, to not wait for death to extinguish me, die before death to become one with the divine.”
Birth of Chandini Chowk
Out of Jahanara’s fertile mind and soulfulness several architectural gems were born. These included mosques, shelters, inns, bazaars and gardens to the cityscapes of Mughal India. The most popular was the ‘Caravanserai’ built within the walls of the capital city of Shahjahanabad that formed the bazaar area subsequently known as Chandni Chowk.
“The chowk was an octagon with sides of one hundred yards and a large pool in its center. To the north, Jahanara built a Caravansarai (roadside inn) and a garden and, to the south, a bath. On certain nights the moonlight reflected pale and silvery from the central pool and gave to the area the name Chandni Chawk (Silver or Moonlight Square). This name slowly displaced all others until the entire bazaar, from the Lahori Gate to the Fatehpuri Masjid, became known as Chandni Chawk,” writes Stephen Blake in his book Shahjahanabad: The sovereign city in Mughal India.
If you walk through the lanes in Chandini Chawk with an open heart you will notice myriad havelis with intricate art work. They are all wailing to tell the untold stories of the goodness present in another time. It is literally as though the magnificence and soulfulness of Jahanara lives on in the heart of Chandini Chawk, waiting to resurface. Each day her soul blesses millions of artisans and traders whose life she sustains through this dream of her’s called Chandini Chowk!
Jahanara, the princess of princesses passed away in 1681. Just eight kilometres away from Chandini Chawk, at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, she rests, unknown and hardly visited by anybody, in a tiny open grave. Her grave and tomb match her character. There is no giant mausoleum built for her. Instead, one of the most influential women of the Mughal Empire now rests at the Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah in New Delhi, in a simple, open white marble structure, unknown to the thousands of devotees that visit the dargah complex every day.
The inscription on the tomb, written by Jahanara herself, reads as follows:
Allah is the Living, the Sustaining
Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,
For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the poor.
The mortal simplistic Princess Jahanara,
Disciple of Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chisti,
Daughter of Shah Jahan the conqueror
Reviving Chandini Chowk – in the memory of the goodness in Jahanara
From its inception to date, Chandni Chowk has been among the busiest and most famous markets in India. Back in the day, Chandni Chowk would see daily footfall of thousands from across Delhi, India and even the world, with traders from Arabia, Europe, China and Turkey adding to its colour. Apart from the commercial establishments, the area is also renowned for its eateries ad religious sites.
Walking through the market today, you’ll witness symbols of three centuries of development in the area – a kaleidoscope of the medieval and present-day worlds. Time, however, has not been kind to Chandni Chowk. The marketplace has been largely unable to cope with its multitude of changes, prominent among them being the ailing condition of traffic movement in the area, even with the underground metro system being functional for more than 15 years now, unplanned drainage systems and messy electrical cables hanging overhead. The bustling market place of the 17th century has been forgotten and neglected.
Our vision for Chandni Chowk is to convert it into an organised commercial and tourist hub, reconstruct and repair the dilapidated and decaying parts and prepare a planned neighbourhood for its residents. A neighbourhood for us to take pride in and flaunt. To get rid of overhead electricity and telephone cables (a similar feat has been achieved in Varanasi), fix overflowing drainage pipes, install and maintain proper traffic management systems and put proper waste disposal systems in place.
The government has already mulled versions of this plan and made the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Plan. However, the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Plan never materialised for several reasons. One of the reported reasons is the traders’ association’s pushback on moderating traffic inflow into Chandni Chowk. However, several sources also cite that the primary reason for the conflict is that their opinions were not considered during the planning stage. To our mind the primary issue, like in most other development matters, would have been non-application of mind, apathy and a lack of awareness.
Plaza Mayor revived even after being burnt thrice
Many communities around the world have rebuilt and revived architectural sites such as ‘chandini chowk’ in honour of the goodness in their past. The monuments that represent the history of such communities are now considered as the world’s most revered destinations where people go in search for peace and tranquility. One such example is Madrid in Spain.
The Plaza Mayor, a major public space in the heart of Madrid, the capital of Spain, was once the centre of Old Madrid. First built in 1619. The place offers an intersection of positive energies from the past and the future. Everyday people from all over the world celebrate the grandeur, magnificence and history of Spain at the Plaza Mayor. The energy of this place revitalizes your mind, body and soul. It is an offering from the past so beautifully and respectfully accepted and preserved in the future.
History of Plaza Mayor – something to learn from here
Plaza Mayor was originally called the "Plaza del Arrabal" and was used as the main market of the town. The Plaza Mayor has suffered 3 major fires in its history but each time it has been reconstructed.
There are several other examples like Plaza Mayor that inspire us to revive the goodness of Chandini Chowk.
Reviving Chandini Chowk in the memory of Jahanara
It is time we gave Jahanara and her soulfulness the respect it deserves. We must reclaim the beauty of Chandini Chowk. It is only when we respect the goodness in our past that goodness will emerge in our future.
Imagine being able to explore the beautiful lanes of Chandini Chowk filled with street musicians and artists. Imagine dining in good company in front of a beautiful Haveli, listening to stories about the travellers from the past that came to the Caravanseraii that was built by the soulful Jahanara.
We have heard about stories of war and hatred but certainly an awe inspiring place like Chandini Chowk has hidden stories of love, art, theatre, music, magic, jadoowalas, jugglers, jinns and peace which perhaps will come to surface when we reclaim the goodness of the place. A traders heaven by the day and a seekers restful delight at night. We imagine a Chandini Chowk with no high tension cables, supremely clean and safe. A place where musicians, lovers and artists can flock together all night and day. Where all faiths come together to tell beautiful stories and to remember only the goodness from our past. The revival of Chandini Chowk will help India become better.
The revival process will involve collaboration and cooperation. For this we need leaders in their fields to unite. Magical communicators, world builders, historians, architects, artists, engineers, traders, business leaders, politicians and religious leaders, men, women, young and old alike.
At PeoPLe, we will connect the dots between the collaborators and build a platform for cooperation to achieve this. Our main role will be to ensure that there is no hindrance in this peaceful project. We request all of you to participate.
First step and milestone
To begin with we have identified a Mumbai based architect named Abha Narain Lambah. We would like her to be a mentor and chief architect for the revival of Chandini Chowk project. Amongst other things she is known for reviving the Crawford market in Mumbai. She grew up in Delhi and feels a strong bond to this place. We believe that she is the right fit for this project.
We propose that Abha along with a group of 9 researchers take the steps necessary to put together a detailed action plan for the revival of Chandini Chowk. We will be part of the research group and will ensure that the action plan is successful.
Estimated cost for the First Milestone:
First milestone estimated cost includes the fee that needs to be paid to the proposed chief architect Abha Narain Lambah and a team of world class researchers who will take this revival story ahead by laying down a detailed action plan. This milestone will also include execution of written collaboration agreements between all key participants and collaborators. Our cost estimate to achieve this first milestone is Rs. 10, 000, 000 (Rupees One Crore only). This cost may increase based on actuals. We will share details of all outgoings with the clients of this service of reviving Chandini Chowk.
Will you help us unfold this story of revival of beautiful and magnificent Chandini Chowk?
Estimated Cost: Rs. 10, 000, 000 (Rupees One Crore only); USD Equivalent